Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts and Te Matatini – Part 3

Haere mai and welcome to the third blog in our ‘Te Whare Tapere to Kapa Haka and Māori Concert Party’ series. You can find Part One, and Part Two here.

The modern kapa haka competitions began around the time of the first Waitangi Day celebrations in 1934:

Ngapuhi performance at Waitangi, 1934 —

The Polynesian Festivals were held at Rotorua, 1972 and 1976. Regional teams took part, but also present were Pacific rōpū until 1983 when the festivals became the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival.

In 1976, rōpū representing Guam and Australia attended the festival. Guam had become an unincorporated territory of USA in August 1950, and its contribution to the festival revealed an almost complete annihilation of the indigenous culture. The rōpū’s waiata-ā-ringa including the shooting down of Japanese invader planes (30 years after the end of WWII), and the singing of the current USA pop song (in English) of ‘How much is that doggie in the window’.

The Aboriginal rōpū told their stories in dramatic role plays backed by their instruments such as didgeridoo — they didn’t stand in kapa / lines for their cultural performances at all.

The Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival existed between 1983 and 2004.

Have watch of the Iwi Anthems television programme, which began screening on Māori Television in 2013:

Watch episodes of Iwi Anthems

Every iwi has an anthem, they are the waiata and haka we love to perform at gatherings. Our iwi anthems tell unique stories about our tribes revealing who we are and what’s important to us.

The competitions rotated from marae to marae setting, with tribal influences dominant in each iwi/hapū territory. The iwi anthems became signature tunes for the respective iwi, with perpetuation of dialect specific to their region. With the influence of migrations to urban centres in search of jobs and upskilling (by trade training, nursing, etc) there was a move to pan-tribal rōpū with pan-tribal influences for members, composers, tutors.

Watch a video from Te Ara of Kapa haka group Te Waka Huia performing the whakaeke (entrance) at the 1996 Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival:

Video — Te Waka Huia, 1996

Te Rita Papesch has written an overview of those years in the book: The state of the Māori nation : twenty-first-century issues in Aotearoa, published in 2006:

“Kapa Haka” — Chapter 2 in State of the Māori nation : twenty-first-century issues in Aotearoa
“Dealing with a diverse range of issues that affect Maori living in modern-day New Zealand, State of the Maori Nation is a collection of 22 short and informative essays drawn from Maori commentators, historians, teachers, researchers and academics working across the country in all manner of industries. This is a book with something for everyone — Maori and Pakeha, men and women, young and old — and gives a vision of a confident and capable people moving from strength to strength within every aspect of contemporary New Zealand society. The subjects covered in the book include: kapa haka […]” (Catalogue)

Te Matatini was formed in 2004, and the competition has now moved to a handful of centralised city settings – influenced by underlying economic factors such as the large size of the moveable stage, and the cost of hosting the competitions. But there has also, lately, been a return to the telling of tribal stories alongside themes of world-wide concerns.

Te Matatini performances have become dramatic, passionate, fluid, and topical in the stories they bring to the stage, but the staunch tutors and leaders of the kapa haka teams declare the centre of Kapa Haka lies, and must always lie, with the care and attention to the reo within these cultural performances, even where a regimented “correct” body poses of the past ideals are no longer of paramount importance.

Watch Hikurangi‘s Te Matatini performance in 2019. Here is the signature waiata of Ngāti Porou – where the rangi and costumes honour the legacy of Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa Ngarimu, but the actions, foot, arm, hip movements are vigorous, “lively” and far from “traditional”:

Hikurangi’s kapa haka legacy continues — Article and video

“Aspiring to preserve the waiata, traditions and legacy of their kapa, Hikurangi is one of the longest-standing kapa in the country, having been established in 1934.”

Further books from our shelves:

Haka : te tohu o te whenua rangatira = the dance of a noble people / Kāretu, T. S. (1993)
Timoti Karetu describes the various types of haka and their different roles in Māori customs.

Mātāmua ko te kupu! : te haka tēnā! te wana, taku ihi e, pupuritia / Kāretu, T. S. (2020)
“[Sir Tīmoti Kāretu] is also an unrivalled creator of waiata and haka, composing songs and judging at Te Matatini and other events. In this book, Sir Timoti shares his extensive experience in the artforms of haka and waiata – from Maori songs of the two world wars to the rise of kapa haka competitions, from love songs to action songs, from Sir Apirana Ngata to Te Puea Herangi, and from Te Matatini to contemporary hui on marae.” (Catalogue)

Kia Rōnaki = The Māori performing arts
“In the last thirty years there has been an explosion of interest in the Māori performing arts but until now there has been no general book written in English or Māori about the Māori performing arts by Māori authors and exponents of the various genres. This new work, Kia Rōnaki: The Māori Performing Arts, edited by John Moorfield, Tania Ka’ai and Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta, brings together the expertise of a range of performance artists and academics, consolidating their knowledge into a comprehensive single volume that will be of relevance to all those interested in the Māori performing arts.” (Catalogue)

Haka : a living tradition / Gardiner, Wira

Chapter “Kapa Haka as a web of cultural meanings” by Hector Kaiwai, in Cultural studies in Aotearoa New Zealand : identity, space and place

Kapa haka mai rānō ki tēnei wā, has been important to iwi on several levels — as a driver of perfection in te reo, as a way of carrying through stories pūrākau and traditions of the past, and now, as a way of raising awareness of current local and global issues.

Kia kaha te reo Māori — mō āke tonu atu.

Read more:

Rauemi Reo : a guide to resources to help strengthen your reo Māori

Waka Welcome at Whare Waka. Te Rerenga Kōtare : Karu atua : two eyes through which the way ahead is viewed

Wellington City Libraries staff have produced an online pamphlet of “Rauemi Reo : a guide to resources to help strengthen your reo Māori”.

During this 50th anniversary of the Petihana Reo Māori, which launched Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, it is fitting to dip into some of the published grammar, dictionaries and language learning books which we hold in our libraries, as well as a growing number of online links to apps, videos, and general websites.

The desire by people of all walks of life to learn te Reo Māori is flourishing at a phenomenal pace.

Television staff are making a huge impact with their daily use of phrases, and those of us who may have dipped into te reo classes in the past, are again impelled to rejoin the ranks of Te Reo learners. I enjoy the added comments in Te Reo Māori seamlessly and smoothly inserted into the evening weather roundup on TVOne. Kia kaha te reo Māori.

Concert Parties: Movers and shakers – Part 2

Haere mai and welcome to the second blog in our ‘Te Whare Tapere to Kapa Haka and Māori Concert Party’ series. You can find Part One here.

Urban migration was the driver for the formation of pan-tribal groupings such as Ngāti Poneke (1936), Te Rōpū Manutaki (1969), Anglican Māori Clubs formed under the leadership of Kingi Ihaka at Wellington and then Auckland,  and Te Kotahitanga o Waitaha was established early 1980s.

The Ngāti Poneke Concert Party in 1950:

Some of the entertainers of the Ngati-Poneke Concert Party. From Rangiatea Centennial Celebration souvenir, page 25. March 1950.
‘Some of the entertainers of the Ngati-Poneke Concert Party’. From Rangiatea Centennial Celebration souvenir, page 25. March 1950. [Ephemera of octavo size relating to Maori. 1950-1954]. Ref: Eph-A-MAORI-1950-01-25. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23236654
Watch video of Ngāti Poneke performing at the NZ Polynesian Festival in 1981 in Avondale, Auckland:

Strong tribal groups were established in Tokomaru Bay, 1939. Tokomaru Bay waiata and the mahi of Tuini Ngawai are retold/performed by Ngā Taikura o te Hokowhitu a Tū in this video from Taikura Kapa Haka 2022 — watch online at the link below:

Ngā Taikura o te Hokowhitu a Tū – Taikura Kapa Haka 2022

Tuini Ngawai founded Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū Concert Party in 1939 — a ropū which assisted Apirana Ngata to recruit soldiers for 28 Māori Battalion. Her most famous waiata was Arohaina mai e te Kingi Nui (1940) which became the unofficial hymn for the Māori Battalion:

Arohaina mai e te Kingi Nui on YouTube

Watch this programme from TVNZ’s Waka Huia archive (Oct 5 1997), about Māori composers Tuini Ngawai and Ngoi Pewhairangi — this is Part two of a two-part profile, and focuses on the establishment of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu cultural party and the history of its activities throughout the years:

Ngoi Pewhairangi, niece of Tuini Ngawai was a member of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū Concert Party. Read more:

Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi : an extraordinary life / Ka’ai, Tania
“This bilingual text is a celebration of Ngoi’s life through the testimonies of many people who knew her.” (Catalogue)

Read this E-Tangata article on Dalvanius Prime:

E-Tangata — “Dalvanius – no one-hit wonder”

And watch the Poi e music video over at Te Ara:

Dalvanius Prime and Pātea Maori Club — ‘Poi e’

From the article:

Dalvanius Prime worked the Australian club circuit in the 1970s as Dalvanius and the Fascinations, and formed a production company called Maui Records in New Zealand in 1983. From then he concentrated on Māori music. His best-known song, ‘Poi e’, was the result of a collaboration with East Cape writer Ngoi Pēwhairangi and was intended to make Māori children feel proud of their ethnicity. It was sung by the Pātea Maori Club to an infectious break-dance rhythm, successfully fusing traditional Māori culture with up-to-the-minute urban sounds. The song was in the New Zealand music charts for 22 weeks in 1984, including four weeks at number one. It re-entered the charts in 2010, popularised by the movie Boy.

Here is an interview with Dalvanius Prime on the making of Poi E (interview was recorded in 2003):

Waihīrere Māori Club formed in Gisborne, (Bill Kerekere), in 1951. Watch Waihīrere Māori Ki Koroneihana Turangawaewae Ngaruawahia on YouTube:

In 1952 Ngāpō (Bub) Wehi became a member of the Waihirere Cultural Group. Read:

Ngapo Wehi – the man who made kapa haka mainstream

Ka mau te Wehi = Taking haka to the world : Bub & Nen’s story / Wehi, Ngapo
With over a century of combined experience in Maori song and dance, leading teams and teaching, Ngapo and Pimia Wehi, affectionately known as Bub and Nen, are recognised as New Zealand’s foremost leaders in this ever-expanding arena, having won six national kapa haka championships, twice as the leaders of The Waihirere Maori Club (1965-1981) and four times with Auckland kapa haka team Te Waka Huia (1981-2011). [… This book] tells the story of Bub and Nen, a loving dedicated couple who taught a generation of Maori how to live the ideals of whanau (family) and hold fast to their cultural identity through participating in kapa haka, one of the biggest and most popular areas of Maori cultural growth to emerge in the last 30 years.” (Catalogue)

Te Whare Tapere to Kapa Haka and Māori Concert Party – Part 1

Kia kawea tātou e te rēhia : Let us be taken by joy and entertainment

The story of kapa haka is a tale of many milestones, developments, and progressions. These are neatly summarized in Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand’s entry on Kapa Haka, where “Kapa” is described as a row of “performers” and kapa haka is acknowledged as both an ancient and a living art form.

A first example of kapa haka occurs in the pūrākau of Tinirau and Kae:

In the 19th century

This article, “19th-century kapa haka” – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, describes kapa haka in the 1800s.

Concert groups (for tourism) were performing to audiences – especially at Rotorua. The kaupapa were delivered in te reo but the underlying melodies were European – thought to be more attractive to tourists who did not always warm to traditional mōteatea.

Māori concert parties made early trips abroad – Dr McGauran’s troup travelled to Sydney and Melbourne in 1862 and then to the United Kingdom the following year.

Traditional Māori ceremonies were always part of the welcome to Royal visitors — for Prince Albert in 1869, and later for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953-4.

In the 20th Century

Mākereti Papakura’s group toured Australia and United Kingdom, in 1910-1911:

Te Puea Hērangi’s troupe, Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri toured the North Island from 1922, funding the building of Tūrangawaewae:

Te Puea formed a group named Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri. Its name commemorates the pou (post) erected by the Kīngitanga at Mangatāwhiri beyond which Pākehā were not to acquire land or authority, an injunction they ignored. Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri set out to raise the hundreds of pounds needed for the carved house by performing in halls and theatres throughout the North Island. Te Puea kept morale high on the tours, gathering the young people together to tell them stories and share her hopes with them, joking, jumping to her feet to show them how to improve their haka, how to pūkana

Te Puea : A life, by Michael King
Te Puea : a life / King, Michael (Also available as an eBook)

Apirana Ngata was a huge supporter of kapa haka as fundraisers for his Māori Soldiers’ fund. He also began, in 1929, to collect waiata for his Ngā moteatea volumes:

Ngā mōteatea : he maramara rere nō ngā waka maha / Apirana Turupa Ngata

“This classic text on Maori culture collects indigenous New Zealand songs recorded over a period of 40 years by a respected Maori leader and distinguished scholar. The essence of Maori culture and its musical tradition is exhibited in the original song texts, translations, audio CDs, and notes from contemporary scholars featured in this new edition.” (Catalogue)

Apirana Turupa Ngata leading a haka at the 1940 centennial celebrations at Waitangi. The meeting house, Waitangi House, is on the left:

Apirana Turupa Ngata leading a haka at the 1940 centennial celebrations, Waitangi
‘Apirana Turupa Ngata leading a haka at the 1940 centennial celebrations, Waitangi.’ Making New Zealand : Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2746-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23012205

Read more:

Apirana Ngata : e tipu e rea / King, Michael
“A well-illustrated biography of Ngata, aimed at school students.” (Summary from Wheelers)

He tipua : the life and times of Sir Apirana Ngata / Walker, R. J.
“A biography of Maori leader, Sir Apirana Ngata. It describes in detail the huge impact Ngata had on the social, cultural, economic and political landscape of New Zealand and how he created a new path of reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha and helped build an enduring Maori recovery.” (Catalogue)

Paraire Tomoana and E Pari Rā:

In the First World War Paraire Tomoana put his musical ability to patriotic use. He was in his 40s, too old and too valuable at home to go to war. Instead, he threw his energies into Ngata’s scheme of raising funds to invest for the benefit of the Māori soldiers who returned, and the children of those who did not. By June 1917 he had organised a song and dance group that gave performances to raise money for the Māori Soldiers’ Fund. The members would prepare songs for soldiers’ camps, for those at home, for battlegrounds, for work and for mourning.

Te Karere clip description for the above (from 2015):

An old war-time song written by Paraire Tomoana nearly a hundred years ago is set to be revived on the other side of the world this ANZAC. More than 200 New Zealanders are learning the song and actions to E Pari Rā to perform it in a mass waiata for this year’s ANZAC Day dawn ceremony in London.”

Pōkarekare ana, Ngāti Kahungunu, 2015 Kaumātua Kapa Haka Festival:

Tapa Whenua: Naming the Land

Tēnā koutou katoa, e te whānau! Matariki is a time for recollection and remembering, as well as hope for the new year. In this post, Ann Reweti, our Māori Customer Specialist, brings together a range of resources that outline the history of place names here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and farther afield.

As Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has it:

“The adage ‘to name is to claim’ has been central to discovery and exploration since time immemorial – Māori call it tapa whenua, whakaingoa whenua or whakahau whenua

Naming places involved a number of customs, including:

  • transplanting Polynesian ancestral names and symbolism to New Zealand places
  • taunaha (naming after body parts) to emphasise personal claims to land
  • naming places according to their features
  • naming places after people
  • naming for historical or spiritual reasons
  • naming to celebrate cultural icons.”

Ngā Ingoa Peka Māori: Our Māori Branch Names

Our whare pukapuka each have a Māori name. The stories of these names, and the places they relate to can be found on our branch names page.

Online Kōrero

“Taunaha Whenua: Naming the Land”
This Matariki, Wellington City Libraries were proud to tautoko a kōrero by Honiana Love, Tumu Whakarae of Ngā Taonga, called “Taunaha Whenua: Naming the Land”. Honiana spoke about history of place names used by mana whenua in this rohe, packing out the National Library Auditorium.

“Memorials, Names and Ethical Remembering”
The day before, the National Library also held their first Public History talk for the year, “Memorials, Names and Ethical Remembering”, with Morrie Love, Nicky Karu and Ewan Morris.

We’re glad to be able to share links to recordings of both those kōrero.


Illustrated Maori place names / Reed, A. W.
“Many Maori place names date back to the very earliest days of habitation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Some, in fact, originated in the Hawaiki homeland and were adapted to the new land. Whatever their origin, most reflect the Maori’s closeness to the forces of nature and incorporate common words for everyday things. Lavishly illustrated, this dictionary explains and interprets over 1500 place names as well as providing a guide to pronunciation.” (Catalogue)

Making our place : exploring land-use tensions in Aotearoa New Zealand
“Fascination with the interplay of people and place inspired the editors to bring together New Zealanders from different backgrounds and disciplines to explore some of the stories and sites of conflict and change to be found amongst our sacred, historic, rural, urban and coastal landscapes.” (Catalogue)

Exploring Aotearoa : short walks to reveal the Māori landscape / Janssen, Peter
“Take a short walk with this book and see the Maori landscape through fresh eyes. Maori culture has close ties with the landscape, in pa and early battle sites, and in myths and legends. From north to south, nearly 200 of the most accessible and memorable landmarks can be visited including volcanic summits, headlands, lakes and islands as well as pa sites urupa (graveyards), and hunting and fishing grounds.” (Catalogue)

Boundary markers : land surveying and the colonisation of New Zealand / Byrnes, Giselle
“In a country where land disputes were the chief cause of conflict between the coloniser and the colonised, surveying could never be a neutral, depoliticised pastime. In a groundbreaking piece of scholarship, Giselle Byrnes examines the way surveyors became figuratively and literally ‘the cutting edge of colonisation’. Clearing New Zealand’s vast forests, laying out town plans and deciding on place names, they were at every moment asserting British power. Boundary Markers also shows how the surveyors’ ‘commercial gaze’, a view of the countryside coloured by the desire for profit, put them at odds with the Māori view of land.” (Publisher’s Description).

Online Resources

The Great Harbour of Tara, by G. L. Adkin.
This work details the traditional Māori place-names and sites of Wellington. It is available in full through Wellington City Libraries’ Recollect site.

Te Ara o nga Tupuna: The path of our ancestors.
“Te Ara o nga Tupuna: The path of our ancestors” is a trail around Te Whanganui-a-Tara which takes in many traditional sites. The trail description on our website contains many kōrero about these places, and the history of their names.

Nga Tupuna o Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Vol. 1).
The Nga Tupuna project was initiated by Wellington City Libraries working in collaboration with the Wellington Tenth’s Trust. While the history of Maori ownership of land around the Wellington area was being researched as part of various Treaty of Waitangi claims, it was felt that not enough emphasis was being given to the biographies of the individuals being named in those claims. This document is the first of four volumes of collected biographies. (WCL Recollect).

He Korero Purakau mo nga taunahanahatanga a nga tupuna: Place names of the ancestors, a Māori oral history atlas.
This title collects oral histories of place names from around Aotearoa, and is available as a digital resource, from LINZ, as well as in our library collection.

The Pukeahu Anthology.
“Pukeahu: An Exploratory Anthology” is a place-based anthology of waiata, poems, essays, and fiction about Pukeahu / Mt Cook, a small hill in Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand that rises between two streams.

Kā Huru Manu : the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping project.
Kā Huru Manu is dedicated to recording and mapping the traditional Māori place names and associated histories in the Kāi Tahu rohe.

To learn more about place names, or any other of ngā mea Māori, you can email Ann Reweti here.

Kōrero with Morrie Love of the Tenths Trust at Central Library

On Friday 27 April (12:30pm),  Morrie Love, chairman of Wellington Tenths Trust will present Stories behind the Māori place names of Te Whanganui-a-Tara  / Wellington (harbour)

Whatu  Ngarongaro  He  Tangata,  Toitū  He  Whenua

Man disappears but the land remains

In the early 1800s the stories behind the naming of the land in Te Whanganui-a-Tara were often sourced to Te  Whatahoro Jury and three women  –  Ngarimu Mawene,  Mere Ngamai and Rangiwahia Te Puni.

Te  Whatahoro  Jury

Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury
Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury. Ref: 1/2-024828. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23175005

Te Whatahoro Jury was born 1841 in Hawkes Bay — his father worked for William Williams.  In 1842 the family moved to Wairarapa.  He became a scribe to Te Matorohanga and Nepia Pohuhu and was charged with recording tribal traditions on behalf of his iwi.  Some of this material was used later, by Elsdon Best, T. W. Downes, S. Percy Smith and John White.  He married seven times.  He died 1923 and is buried at Papawai cemetery.

Ngarimu  Mawene  Hohua

Ngarimu Mawene is listed in documents held at Te Papa. Ngarimu Mawene may have been connected to Hohua Te Atuawera and Hariata Mawene, with links therefore Te Ngatoro and  (first?) husband, Wakairianiwa.  Te Ngatoro was, in turn, a daughter to Aniwaniwa and Tawhirikura.  It is said that, as a young girl, Ngarimu danced on the beach at Pito-one as the “Tory Pioneers” arrived in 1839.[1]

Mere  Kapa  Ngamai  I

Mere Kapa Ngamai I was the daughter of Rawiri Kowheta and Maweuweu.

She married, firstly James Harrison, and their children were James Te Tana Harrison and Mere Kapa Ngamai II.  Mere later married Wi Tako Ngatata.  She was also known as Mere Ngawai o Te Wharepouri.

Mere was a well-known composer — two of her compositions which have survived:

(Link is to Legends of the Māori.  Vol. I / James Cowan)

Rangi  Te  Puni

Wairau April 1851, Charles Gold
Gold, Charles Emilius, 1809-1871 : Wairau April 1851. Ref: A-329-014. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23236682

Rangi Te Puni is believed to have been born in Waipa Valley, with links to Tainui and Ngāti Rārua. She succeeded to land at Te Tau Ihu o te Waka. Rangiwahia,(Rangiwhaia) was the daughter of Rangitakaia, and grandchild of Hinehape.[2] Rangiwahia was the wife of Henare Te Puni, who in turn was the son of Honiana Te Puni and Wikitoria Muri-tu-waka-roto.

[Whakapapa of Aperaham Huritapae: Nelson MB, 13/6/89 / [WMB  NO. 3, P. 39]

James  Cowan

James Cowan at his desk, writing
James Cowan at his desk, writing. Ruscoe, Ivan, fl 1990s : Photographs relating to James Cowan. Ref: PAColl-5877-5. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22311747

James Cowan has written about Māori place names  of Te Whanganui-a-Tara in the Evening Post, 1912. These are available on PapersPast, in the Evening Post:

Cowan’s kōrero has been reproduced, also, in Pat Lawlor‘s book:

Old Wellington Days.  Chapter 8:  James Cowan and his Wellington Place-names.

Old Wellington Days, by Pat Lawlor
Old Wellington Days, by Pat Lawlor

Threads are picked up again in:

A list of Māori place names of Te Whanganui-a-Tara  concludes Elsdon Best’s The land of Tara.  Here is a map from that book.

The Land of Tara, by Elsdon Best
The Land of Tara, by Elsdon Best

Te Whatahoro Jury’s work in transcribing  oral histories possibly, formed a basis for stories in Elsdon Best’s – The land of Tara, published first in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, and then in book form, 1919.

Best’s list of names was revised and greatly expanded by G Leslie Adkin in:

The great harbour of Tara : traditional Māori place-names and sites of Wellington harbour and environs / G Leslie Adkin (1959)

The Great Harbour of Tara, by G. Leslie Adkin


Māori have long had an interest in the spiritual value of land: it pervades their sense of identity and how they relate to others. But land is also the foundation of their survival, in economic as well as cultural terms [3]

Book Jacket for: Boundary markers : land surveying and the colonisation of New ZealandBoundary markers : land surveying and the colonisation of New Zealand / Byrnes, Giselle

Giselle Byrnes, writing of surveyors as Pākehā boundary markers, shows that these men were also naming the land, and “owning” the whenua for their colonial government in a way that parallels the Māori concept of Tapa Whenua.


Boundary markers suggest that the surveyors colonised the land through language, literally inscribing it with new meanings and ways of seeing:  place naming and mapping are perhaps the best examples of this [4]

For Māori, in oral tradition, naming the land was essential for defining  iwi and  hapū boundaries. Sites of tribal significance — maunga, awa, moana  then become key elements in kawa o te marae, and  whanaungatanga, in rituals of encounter, where politeness decrees that you ask not “ko wai koe?/ who are you?”, but rather, “nō hea koe? / where are you from?”

Surveyors extended their sketching skills to record not just Pākehā boundaries, but also snapshots of the life and times of our tūpuna.

Somes Island

Legend has it that both Matiu and Makaro Islands received their original Māori names from Kupe, the semi-legendary first navigator to reach New Zealand and get home again with reports of the new land. He named them after his two daughters (or, in some versions of the tale, nieces) when he first entered the harbour about 1000 years ago.

Somes Island : Matiu (1990)
Somes Island : Matiu (1990)

“After European settlement, the island was known for over a century as Somes Island. In 1839 it fell under the control of the New Zealand Company along with much of the greater Wellington region.”

“The island was renamed after Joseph Somes, the company’s deputy-governor and financier at the time. In 1997 however, the New Zealand Geographic Board assigned the official bilingual name of Matiu/Somes in recognition of the island’s colourful European and Māori histories.” [5]

I look forward to Morrie Love’s kōrero to reveal the layers of history that lie both beneath our feet and before our eyes, and  to provide an opportunity to understand the heritage of Te Whanganui-a-Tara.


  1. Stories in names / Tohunga.   New Zealand Railways magazine ; vol. 9, issue 6 (1934)
  2. Maori Land Court.  Nelson Minute Book.   13/6/89.  P. 39.
  3. Byrnes, Giselle.   Boundary markers.  P. 2
  4. Ibid.  p. 6
  5. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, March 16). Matiu / Somes Island. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:26, April 13, 2018, from